I was born in 1970 in New York City which means two things. First, that I am a Knickerbocker fan by default, no talk of Brooklyn Nets back then. Second, I didn’t know that I missed what were the glory days of New York City basketball. The only game I ever picked up as a kid growing up in New York was basketball. All you needed was a pair of kicks and some game, and you could play anywhere for free. Basketball cut across all boundaries. That is the beauty of the sport.
I just recently finished Harvey Araton’s great recount of “Clyde, The Captain, Dollar Bill and the glory days of The New York Knicks” in “When The Garden Was Eden.” Great treasured insight into an all-time great team.
Makes me even respect and like Phil Jackson.
I suffered through the 1980’s, despite a brief glimpse at a superstar Bernard King, who lit up the mecca of basketball with his prolific scoring. But until New York won the lottery and years of promise with Patrick Ewing, the only excitement in town was in watching Chris Mullin’s Redmen and those classic battles against the despised Georgetown Hoyas.
Yes, the 80’s belonged to L.A. and Boston, and although I got great pleasure in rooting for Bird versus Magic, I longed for the Knicks to be relevant. Thereafter reigned the Detroit Piston Bad Boys, until the arrival of the great Michael Jordan who everyone embraced. We loved to watch Air Jordan drop 40 but lose by one to the home team. Who knew the Knicks could never figure out how to beat his Airness despite our thuggery on defense (remember Oakley and Mason?).
Even when Michael went all baseball crazy and gave us a brief window of opportunity, the Knicks still fell short, whether it was three missed Charles Smith dunk attempts, Starks shooting 1 for 30 against Houston, or Ewing missing a finger roll vs. the Pacers. The Knicks could not bring home a championship. Losses to the state of Texas were devastating blows to Knicks fans, realizing that Olajuwon, Duncan, and Robinson were probably better than our beloved, beleaguered Ewing. There were other worthy villains, such as the Miami Heat, with visions of Coach Van Gundy clinging to the ankle of a swinging Alonzo mourning. Some of those victories over Miami were sweet. Thank you Allen Houston. And who can forget Spike Lee vs. Reggie Miller. Boy did I hate Reggie Miller and his omniscient choke sign.
And what was the front office doing to bring us a championship? Well, first the Rangers figured it out. I remember celebrating at a bar on the Upper West Side, not much of a hockey fan, wondering what it would feel like to enjoy a Knicks victory. Then came a littany of point guards, from Marc Jackson on down to the current situation. Bad contract after bad pick in succession, from Rod Strickland to Stephon Marbury, to Greg Anthony, to Stevie Francis, all talented, misunderstood shooting guards with score first mentalities. Drop digits and lose. No Mo Cheeks or Derek Harper or hot dog Marc Jackson with his pre-Santonio Holmes Jet plane celebration. Just bad point guard play and contract after bad point guard contract.
Here’s the thing about those 90’s teams. They were fun to watch. They tried hard. They represented the city with hard work and a no nonsense approach to defense.
We loved those Knick teams because they shared the goals of the working class, trying to succeed in NYC. Us against the world
And since then what have the Knicks become? Not even Louis Orr or Darrell Armstrong and Ken “the animal” Bannister. No Bob Thornton lunch pail. No, the Knicks have become egomaniacal superstars trying to copycat and compete with the Miami Heat. They are unwatchable. Consequently I have stopped playing street ball, and adopted my girlfriend’s team, the Chicago Bulls. Watch them play defense. Watch them share the ball. Check out Noah’s enthusiasm. To bad Derrick Rose got hurt. I would have loved to see them beat the Heat.
Before you slice me with a metrocard for even entertaining any team other than the Knicks, let me plead my case.
This is why the Jeremy Lin debacle is so sad. The final straw. For a small window of games last year, the Knicks were fun to watch again, relevant even. I was excited, proud to be a part of a movement: winning. An unsung hero gets dropped on our laps from the basketball heavens, ready to resurrect the Knick fan base, forcing cable companies to settle their differences, and what does the Knick management do? They fumble the ball. They cause the worst turnover of their career. They almost did the same many years ago. Willis Reed was signed by pure luck.
So what do we have left? A “superstar” who hogs the ball and has won how many playoff series in nine years? How does he inspire everyone else on the team to play harder? By saying great leadership opinions like that is a ridiculous contract? What is ridiculous is Carmelo’s playoff track record. I am not saying Lin is better than Melo. But Lin made us believe. He made players better. He carried a team without either superstar. Instead of being jealous, Melo could take a page out of how Lin inspired a city, take fewer shots, play defense and rise in the fourth quarter when we need him.
The other superstar? Stoudemire, seriously, how long before another twisted back on the dunk line or smashing his other fist through plate glass. What a leader. He couldn’t win in Phoenix with the best point guard at that time, and so what is that head case gonna accomplish now? The Knicks cannot win with either of them.
Jeremy Lin can’t go left. He is turnover prone. He is not worth that contract. All these things are probably true. But for a while there he brought us true enjoyment. He shot over Dirk, scored more than Kobe, and was the toast of the town. He has NY swagger, he trash talked, wasn’t afraid to take the big shot, and uplifted the play of his teammates. The Knicks were playing defense again. Shumpert and J.R. Smith, even Melo got low. Novak and Landry became more confident, Chandler played lights out defense. Then Lin got hurt, and they weren’t the same team, bowing out in the playoffs again.
Against the Heat perhaps Lin should have played, but no one knows the state of his knees better than him. Besides, he needed to look out for himself. He knew that Knicks management would play around with his contract, suck him bone dry for Linsanity, raise ticket prices, and compensate him at a minimum. And that’s exactly what happened. They could have come in with a strong offer. Instead they played games, and now Lin is gone, and people want to make him out to be greedy. Dolan was outsmarted and now who will watch what’s left of this team? I for one will not. They are not a fun team to watch. They haven’t been for a long time, and with an owner who so obviously doesn’t care about the fan base either…
I am sure I will peak in at our two resident superstars from time to time, and will continue to root for them against hated rivals, but until the Knicks are fun to watch again, I’ll keep the channel on UCONN women’s basketball, or the Bulls, or bury my head in Jets football and March madness.
Glory days pass you by, or in my case passed me by. All I’ve got is MSG re-broadcasts and “When The Garden Was Eden” to cheer on the old, fun Knicks. For right now, the mecca of basketball is dead.